“Our #Lionesses go back to being mothers, partners and daughters today, but they have taken on another title - heroes.”
This was indeed a tweet from the England Football Association, welcoming the national women’s team home on Monday after its third place finish at the World Cup in Canada.
Is the FA hoping for a British Comedy Award this year? Perhaps not, as they removed the tweet within the hour, shame-faced and apologetic. Too late, though, and the FA quickly found itself squirming under heaps of the pertinent, witty mockery at which Twitter excels.
“For those of you wondering what Twitter would have looked like in the ‘50s, @England helpfully obliged,” one male tweeter posted, while comedian Rufus Hound suggested: “Lionesses families delighted to welcome home their heroes, having not had any proper dinner since World Cup started.”
Many objected to the notion that these professionals (the England women are paid £20,000-£35,000 a year) cease being footballers once competing ends, while others questioned that they stop being partners, mothers and daughters as they represent their country, leading to comparisons with post-war advice that women should pinny-up and get back to the kitchen, leaving the hard, paid work to the menfolk.
You’ve got to feel sorry (just a little, come on) for those poor chaps at the FA. Bless them. I bet they thought they were being cool and modern when they used the word “partners”. The tweet was meant as a tribute, after all, and look, they’ve got women on their Twitter name banner and everything, right next to Wayne Rooney. Honestly, you can’t do right for doing wrong.
I asked my 16-year-old nephew if he thought the FA would ever have sent out a similar message about the men’s team. “Nope,” he said, then added thoughtfully: “But I think they should start.”
He’s right. The England men’s team should also routinely be defined by their relationship to their close family, as fathers, husbands, partners and sons. Actually, these are the only other roles they have outside of football and I suspect most male England players are unqualified to do anything else (unlike their female counterparts).
Because there is nothing sexist about being referred to as a partner, a parent or a child - as someone who is inherently, inextricably connected to their closest relatives, caring for them and about them. The only reason that it is sexist in this context is because it is frequently only women who are defined in this way, whereas men rarely are.
Scorn has been poured on the FA from across the world, and rightly so. But the FA’s tweet would not have been sexist if men and women were both defined equally by their family and home roles. We need to change how we see men, not just women. That’s what’s behind the FA’s latest own goal.